I’ve just spent nearly a quarter of my life, off and on, researching the darkness that haunts our community. The result is my book, Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada, which chronicles over a hundred killings and more than 350 queerbashing incidents that have occurred in Canada since 1990.
Depressing? Obviously, but what’s really distressing is when friends say to me, “I bought your book, but I had to put it down. It’s just too disturbing.”
I wrote Pink Blood because there was a serious lack of information on the topic, but now I’m forced to ponder something even more disturbing: will anything really change? Will our community take the ball and run with it?
The defence mechanisms we’ve developed along the way that shield us from endemic societal homophobia and violence may prevent us from making the necessary changes. Here are some of the ways our community drops the ball when homophobic violence rears its ugly head.
“Doug, you must have been really victimized to want to write this book.” Right, so this is all about me; tilting at windmills, trying to right a terrible wrong because I’ve been so brutally victimized. It’s true. I’ve had some horrible experiences. But so have a lot of other people. I don’t think others need to experience what I went through in order to engage in the issue of homophobic violence. A little empathy is all that’s needed.
In this scenario, violence is not such a bad thing after all. One man in Vancouver, who was raped in his apartment by an intruder, complained that his gay male friends offered him no support whatsoever. In fact, they continually joked about it and said he must have enjoyed it. In Toronto, a gay male journalist wrote a column complaining that a straight journalist just didn’t understand queer culture. He suggested that this man should “go to a bathhouse and put his saggy ass in the air, his face in a pillow and see who rams him from behind… I will happily supply the condoms and a lot of lube (cuz God knows he’ll need it).” This points to a darker pathology: gay men who believe that forced sex is inevitable, so why not enjoy it?
It’s impossible to take a stand against that which you deny exists. In Victoria, a man with a concealed knife walked into a gay bar. He tried dancing with a young woman, then stabbed her several times on the dance floor before attempting to escape. He explained later that she had “rejected” him. The kicker: the victim said, “I don’t believe this was any sort of gay issue… This can happen to anyone, and it doesn’t matter if you’re homosexual or heterosexual.” We all see cases where the basher denies his involvement. But in this case, even the victim went out of her way to deny that homophobia was a motivating factor.
We take a stand against homophobic violence-but only sometimes. In 1998, after Matthew Shepard was killed in Wyoming, memorial vigils were held across Canada. But in a one-year period around the time of his death, six Canadian gay men were killed. There were no vigils for them. We took our cues from the American media. In some ways, it’s easier to mourn someone else’s loss than our own.
Even when we do mourn our own, it’s spotty.
In Ottawa, the murder of one gay man in his apartment sparked a candlelight vigil. Six months later, a similar incident was ignored. In Toronto, the community organized a vigil for murder victim Cassandra Do, but there was no vigil for psychiatrist Henry Durost who died under similar circumstances.
DEFERRING TO AUTHORITY
In many jurisdictions in this country, the police have no reliable systems that keep track of hate crimes that are motivated by homophobia.
We all pay to support the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a police force that has done precious little on a national level to work with our community. And in Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police has spent millions on a hate crime unit that does not produce statistics about homophobic violence. That doesn’t mean queerbashing doesn’t exist in these jurisdictions; it means we haven’t demanded that it be addressed.
In 1990, dozens of queer protestors were beaten and jailed by the Montreal police. Even though the violence was captured on television, the police were not prosecuted. In fact, they never even issued an apology.
And yet, people get charged with sexual assaults that happened 40 years ago.
A small group of local activists tried, but they could only do so much. Without generous legal and financial support on a national scale, these abuses will continue to go unchallenged.
In Montreal, several gay men have reportedly received out-of-court settlements after being beaten by the police. Why did they take the cheques and agree to keep to their mouths shut? Chances are, if some of these victims had the legal and financial backing of a strong, vocal queer civil liberties group they would have spoken out, but in the absence of such support perhaps they feared losing everything if they took on the police alone.
“We do it to ourselves.”
In this variation, the violence happens because, as a community, we’re so fucked up that we turn on each other.
In Ottawa, for example, a predator found his gay victims on Cruiseline. He would go to their houses and attack and rob them. He told one victim, “I will kill you, cocksucker.”
After he pleaded guilty to 38 charges in 10 separate incidents, he explained to police that he was actually bisexual.
Because of this admission, the police concluded that the assaults were not technically gaybashings; robbery was the primary motive. Besides, how could the perpetrator be a gaybasher if he was bi himself?
The chair of the police liaison committee, an organization that supposedly represents the interests of the queer community, didn’t question the police on this approach. Instead, she thanked them for their diligence.
We need to acknowledge that the violence we inflict, even on one another, can be homophobic in its intent.
Would it kill us to demand justice?
Do we have a choice? Doing nothing is killing us anyway.